Kala KA-T Review

By | April 6, 2015

kala-ka-t-tenor-ukuleleHere is a review of my newest ukulele, the Kala KA-T. It is a laminate mahogany tenor ukulele that sells for about $120. My go to ukulele is a Pono solid wood mahogany tenor, but the hassle of keeping that instrument in a case with humidifier during the cold and dry New England winters got me down, and I found myself in the market for a less expensive laminate ukulele that I could keep hanging on the wall all winter long. While it sounds a little more plasticky than solid wood, laminate is tough stuff. I expect this ukulele will be fine without being humidified during the winter. If you’re like me and do a lot of your playing in quick 5 minute spurts between other activities, having a ukulele at hand without fuss is key. I also won’t fret as much taking this ukulele outdoors by the pool in the summer time. The Kala KA-T is my “beater” ukulele, for lack of a better term.

Kala makes a great ukulele at this price, and I’ll save you the trouble of reading this whole post by giving it my highest recommendation for a relatively inexpensive laminate ukulele. If you’re interested in all the details, read on.

The specs:

  • Standard tenor scale with 18 frets
  • Laminate mahogany top, back and sides
  • Mahogany neck
  • Rosewood fingerboard and bridge
  • Chrome die-cast sealed geared tuners

As of this writing, the listing for this ukulele on Amazon claims it has a “Solid Satin Mahogany Top” – this is incorrect. The top is definitely laminate. Confirm this if you like on Kala’s website.

I’m happy to report that this Kala KA-T plays very much like my Pono tenor. It has a nice fast neck, the strings are comfortably spaced and the action is good with no buzzing. Intonation is good right up the neck.

The KA-T is an attractive enough ukulele, but it won’t win oohs and aahs from onlookers. It’s a nice simple instrument, and the white binding gives it just the right amount of bling, in my opinion. I do find it looks better in person than it does in most of the photos I’ve seen online. The wood is lighter and not nearly as cardboard-brown as it looks in photos. Laminate doesn’t look any different – it looks just like solid mahogany.

The tone is balanced, meaning that there aren’t certain notes that resonate louder than others. Folks call these “wolf notes” and they drive me nuts. Unfortunately it’s common to have certain frequencies resonate louder than others in less expensive acoustic instruments, so I was very pleased to find this Kala so well-balanced.

My style of playing has lots of single notes, so any frequencies that are muddy quickly reveal themselves. Up and down the neck, notes ring clear. Sustain is what I’d expect at this price point: decent but not great.

Here’s a video of me playing a tune on this ukulele, Hilo March from Mark Nelson’s book Learn To Play Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele

15 thoughts on “Kala KA-T Review

  1. Ray Smith

    I am just starting to learn to play the ukulele, in fact this is my first attempt to learn to play a musical instrument – reckon at 65 it’s now or never! Just wanted to say thanks for this, as I was deciding what to buy and your review has sealed it! The Kala KA-T is at our local Long& McQuade music shop here in Vancouver, BC. Could you advise what I need to check and have them setup, perhaps, ACTION?

    1. Matt Post author

      Hi Ray, thanks for your comment. Definitely ask them to do a setup on the instrument – they’ll know what to do from there. -Matt

      1. Suze

        Can you share what the ‘set up’ process is? I’m looking for a uke for my niece. I’m a musician (cello, trumpet, piano) but not a guitar or guitar player.

        I don’t want a piece of junk yet not spend a bunch of cash for a dip-the-toes in test. A better quality instrument can make the learning process a bit better.

        Thanks for insights.

        1. Matt Post author

          In my experience the setup out of the factory on Kala ukes is good, no adjustments needed. That said, if you buy your uke from a “real” music store where they work on the instruments they sell, it’s likely they’d be happy to do a quick checkup on your uke when you buy it.

  2. Steven Amick

    I’m a brand-new, 69-year-old ukulele player interested in both strumming and picking my new Kala KAA-15T. Haven’t played any instrument since trumpet in my high school’s marching band back in Aught Sixty Two. (Not only last century, but last millennium. How’s that for an enhanced state of maturity!)
    Looking forward to making music again and this uke seems to fit my needs: small and lightweight enough to be portable, I can (unlike with the horn) play the instrument and sing at the same time, and inexpensive. (At least, for the time being. Eventually I might have to get something really nice, like a Kanil’a; but for now, the laminate tenor should be perfect.)
    Can you tell me whether there is any appreciable difference between this limited-edition model made for and sold exclusively by Austin Bazaar and the KA-T?

    1. Matt Post author

      Hi Steven, thanks for your comment. The only difference I can see is that the KAA-15T has the etching around the soundhole and white tuners instead of chrome. I gather it’s the same bones and materials as the KA-T.

  3. Steven Amick

    Thanks. Aside from its lower price and lack of white binding on the KAA-T, as well, I haven’t discovered any significant differences, either. I’m very happy with my KAA-T.

  4. Nicola Graham

    I first choice beginners uke is kala ka-15s soprano mahogany ukulele but KAA-T is amazing ukulele for all kind of players .

    Thanks Matt

  5. William Zaspel

    Just received this as my first ukulele and was reading your review while waiting for the carton to warm up before opening. I already knew this would be a good starter instrument but I’m doubly pleased to have your comments to confirm my selection. Thank you.

    1. Matt Post author

      Smart to let it warm up. So hard to wait several hours to open an instrument delivered and left out in the cold. Enjoy!

  6. Rick Woodbury

    Hi Matt,
    I just purchased a Kala KA-TE and love it. I noticed that the one in the photo has black strings. I’ve purchased a set, as they were recommended by Cynthia Lin, my online teacher. Mine came with Nylagut strings and I’ve been planning on switching. Can you comment on the difference? I’m new to the ukulele, but have played guitar on and off for over 50 years. Never got any good at it though. Mostly enjoy playing both with my grandchildren. I bought them both Ukuleles in Hawaii, and now I’m hooked and bought the Kala for myself
    Thanks for any insight on strings.
    Best wishes,

    1. Matt Post author

      Hi Rick,

      I’d stick with the Aquila strings. They are hard to beat and can really make a laminate uke sing. The black strings tend to be quiet and bland in my experience. Happy playing!


  7. Kenneth Schroeder

    Great review, simple and to the point and coming from someone who can actually compare it with a high end instrument (as Pono is from my perspective). I’m looking forward to getting my Kala KA TEM next week.

  8. John Vargas

    WOW Matt – Superb Review on the KALA KA-T Tenor Uke! 🙂

    I just came back from NAMM 2019, where I spent a lot of time at the KALA booth. I really liked the price, functionality and sound of the KALA KA-TE uke.

    I currently own an ALOHA 24″ concert uke which is helping me to learn – from being a total beginner. I picked it up at Costco in October on a vacation in Kauai. It was very inexpensive and it works fine as a beginner instrument. So far I have learned 5 songs, and I thoroughly enjoy playing now. I replaced the #4 string to be a low-G (Aquila Red) and I really love the warm sound, after swapping out this string.

    So at NAMM I was looking to get something in a larger form factor with the same GCEA tuning of the uke that I learned on. The tenor felt really good in my hands. I found a super deal on the Kraft Music site and I will receive shipment on Friday. I can’t wait to try it out. I also love that I will be able to plug this uke into an amp and directly into our recording console, to get a different sound vs close-miking.

    I tried a wire-wound low-G before, but didn’t like the harmonics from that string compared to the other three solid nylon strings. I later got the Aquila Red and it seemed to blend in well with the other three solid nylon strings.

    Question: Do you think it would be a good idea for me to swapout the #4 string on my new KA-TE tenor uke for a low-G? Or do you think I should buy a completely new set of strings with low-G for the KA-TE?

    LOVE your video. You are a very skilled musician. Beautiful.

    Kind Regards

    John Vargas
    4Play Records, Inc.

    1. Matt Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, John. Strings are easily changed and relatively inexpensive, so I’d try changing just the one and then decide whether to go for all four. I’ve never liked playing with a low G so I can’t offer much experiential advice on that one. Cheers, and enjoy your new uke!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *